Tag: Peace

Quakerism and Design: Creating community – Reblogged

Quakerism and Design: Creating community – Reblogged

Pickett Endowment Grantee Blog: Quakerism and Design: Creating community: By Julia Thompson

In April to mid-June, I was working with an organization called Youth Spirit Artworks (YSA) to support the design and build process of an outdoor art space referred to as an ArtLot.  YSA is an organization that is committed to empowering homeless and low-income youth through art job training in Berkeley, California.

My personal passion is to explore the intersection of engineering and spirituality. I hold a Ph.D., and have researched extensively using service-learning as a way to teach engineering skills. The Pickett fellowship has allowed me to expand on this work, and to work directly with a community on a design project, one that was rooted in Quaker values.

Through this experience, I was able to work with youth, staff, community members, and architects to push forward the design and build of the ArtLot.  We threw out rubbish that had been collecting in the area, weeded, stained benches, stabilized benches, and built trellises.  We had a number of meetings to discuss the space, and volunteer days to get things built.

Personally, the experience has given me a lot of insight into my gifts and limitations. I experienced the chaos, mess, and love that are present through life. Below are three lessons: my problem-solving mindset, me as a community organizer, and a valuable lesson of homelessness and God.

The ArtLot when I arrived (April 2016)


Two youth using the space to practice poetry and music 


My Problem-Solving Mindset

There were a number of things that needed to be figured out associated with building the ArtLot, and I loved putting on my brainstorming hat and can-do attitude to accomplish these tasks.  For example, there were beautiful benches, which had been designed by an architect student, and there had been a series of volunteer days to build them before I got there.  One of the first weeks I was there, a number of volunteers worked with youth to stain them. However, there were a number of structural issues with the benches.  The benches were designed to fold up, yet the front legs would collapse if you leaned back, the bench was wobbly, and the front legs were shorter than the back – each one being different heights. One of the professional architects and I examined them closely and figured out a way to make them stable. First, we measured each front leg to determine how far off the ground it was. Based on this measurement, we cut off that height from the associated back leg. We also attached nylon webbing and made it taught to reduce the wobble and make sure the front legs would not collapse. Currently, all the benches are relatively flat and stable.  This process of identifying an issue, figuring out a solution, and following through with it, was completely satisfying, and I recognize this as something that aligns well with my gifts and skill sets.

The benches
The volunteer day where we constructed the trellises

Me as a community organizer

This experience was a bit more than I expected. I put myself out there on a number of occasions and felt drained when things did not go as planned. Many times I felt like I was pushing the project too fast, and others were not as interested in being engaged. In the process, I learned a lot about myself; however, I often felt that I had jumped into the deep end.

I would like my next experience to be more in the terms of wading. I am opening myself to opportunities to assist in facilitation experiences, working under mentors who have gifts and experience of holding space. Also, I want to work with communities who have a desire and intention to be present.

My current goal is to run retreats in the next three to five years where artists, designers, architects, engineers, and others can reflect on what it means to build the world with integrity.

Raising up the trellises

God and Homelessness

I would say the most profound lesson I learned about homelessness was talking to one young man.  He arrived in Berkeley from New Jersey, following a meditation guru. He spoke of his love for this guru, and his devotion to meditation and yoga.  Up until that point, there was a naïve and arrogant part of me that believed that it was only through my privilege in this world that I was able to seek God the way I have, and strive to live out my vocation. As I talked to this man, I was touched and I recognized how human is this urge which I have, and how it is not limited by wealth and privilege. We are all children of God.

Community event- Voices Unfliltered: An art exhibition of Humanity (August 6, 2016)

Overall, I am extremely appreciative for this opportunity and the incredible support from various communities. Many people supported me in various ways throughout this journey, from holding me in the Light to giving me places to stay.  I am deeply blessed and utterly grateful.


Cyber-peace: the need for Quakers in the digital age

According to the New York Times, the recent news of hacked emails have resulted in the FBI to consider a question- should America Retaliate?

In cyberspace, the boundaries between espionage, terrorism, activism, as well as state and civilian are obscured and undefined. One action may be taken as an act of war, and may escalate without intent, and may escalate in ways that are still uncertain. There has not been recognized, mutual definitions among nation-states, and thus this platform has no rules.

I see the is a deep need for Quakers to create space and lead in the discernment on how to define, create and maintain cyber peace.

Over the last five months, I have been working as a post doc on the misconceptions students form when learning cyber security, (they actually hired me because I knew nothing on the topic, thus limiting my bias, and I took the position after the discernment of the peace testimony). Throughout these months, I have started to learn a bit about the cyber security, cyber war, and cyber peace and the lack of policies that exist. I am in no way an expert, but I would say I am a bit more educated than most citizens.

I am very interested to connect with others peace makers concerned about this topic, and to start thinking about actions and policies that can result in cyber peace.

I would like to get others thoughts on this topic.


How to be a Peaceful Engineer

How to be a Peaceful Engineer

In order to live in a peaceful world, it is essential that our engineers and technologies be peaceful. A week ago, I was at the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL’s) Annual Meeting, where attendees learned about building peace and lobbied our representatives to make the Atrocity Prevention Board (APB) permanent. Although the gathering did not focus on engineering, it led me to contemplate the roles that technology, engineering, and engineers play in peace building. I have collected some of my thoughts for this post.

Swords into Plowshares

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” King James Bible: Micah 4:3

While I was living in South Africa, I learned that, with the fall of Apartheid, the large prison that had confined peace activists like Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Luthuli, and Nelson Mandela was turned into South Africa’s constitutional court. Like in Micah 4:3, this structure of war and violence was transformed into a structure for peace and justice. In the verse above, the new technologies—plowshares and pruning hooks—offered people a new livelihood, resulting in food and nutrients for the entire society. So instruments of war and strife were transformed into tools meant for the success of the people.

Today we have guns, bombs, drones, and a multitude of other technologies that bring terror and death to people’s lives. If we want to build a peaceful world, we need to remold these technologies into ones that promote peace. It is the obligation of peaceful engineers to dismantle the technologies of war, and utilize the same material to build technologies that create respectable livelihoods and provide for the needs of all people. For example, engineers can create processes to turn guns into gardening tools for community gardens. Or turning manufacturing lines that produces tanks into manufacturing units creating solar panels. Engineers who actively dismantle the systems of war and turn them into systems of peace, are peaceful engineers.

Providing Access to the Marginalized

Technology has the ability to open up the world; it works like a bridge that provides access to land that is otherwise unreachable.

People throughout the world are marginalized, unheard, and do not have opportunities to pursue their dreams. During the Arab Spring, social media provided a platform for people to unite marginalized voices. Oppressive powers were attempting to silence people, yet through technology they found a way to speak, and they spoke loudly. This was only possible through technology.

An engineer working on technology that provides a voice and opportunity to the disenfranchised is an engineer for peace.

Holding Tension of the Whole System and Your Contribution

The examples above are a bit narrow in scope and complexity. These are small acts of peace that made a difference; in the complex industrial war system we live in, though, things are not that easy. Twitter may provide a voice to the unheard, but the cellphone where the Tweets originate was made with raw materials that were mined by children in forced labor, and overseen by the militias who cause war. The peaceful engineer needs to recognize, remember, and remold this system moving forward. It is not enough to focus so narrowly on one piece of the system. The end result is not the only issue; the process by which technology is created and made available also needs to coincide with our peaceful goals.

At the same time, viewing all the atrocities of the system can be daunting, and result in a feeling of paralysis. While recognizing the whole system, an engineer also needs to do what they are able to move forward on an individual basis. We must concentrate on the contributions we are able to make, while also supporting others who are working on different points in the system.

So, the peaceful engineer needs to open their awareness and heart to the complex systems in which they are living, while at the same time taking the steps that are actually within their grasp. We should know everything that needs to be done, and do everything that we are able to do.

I think this is where praying is most useful. As Quakers, we have the phrase “Holding in the Light” that essentially means that I am holding a situation into Divine presence. Here is a better explanation. If you are not religious, you may just want to send positive thoughts. No one person has control of the whole system, and we can only do our best.

Engineers Need to Know When Engineering Is Not Appropriate.

Bridget Moix from the Genocide Prevention Program recently returned from the Central African Republic. Last year, the villages were too violent to travel, but through intentional acts of peace, the region was stabilizing enough for her to enter. She spoke at the meeting about her experiences.

Bridget gave an illustration of an act of peace that she witnessed. In the village, a social cohesion committee mediated a conflict over a stolen cow. The villager who had stolen the cow agreed to pay for it, and this satisfied the villager whose cow was stolen. The social cohesion committee was able to address the conflict through peaceful means.

In this context, the role of an engineer is to do nothing – unless, of course, the engineer is a trained mediator. There are situations and times when it is not technology that is needed to solve a problem. The peaceful engineer needs to be trained to recognize these instances and respond accordingly. We cannot say that simply because technology is not called for, we have no responsibility.

“Building” Peace

We cannot create a peaceful world in a vacuum; we must work together to accomplish peace. Even though it seems daunting and impossible, it is important that we continue striving for peace.

These are some of my personal reflections on what it means to be a peaceful engineer. I would love to hear your thoughts on what I wrote and any ideas you may have on what is needed to build peace.



Photo: “And they shall beat their swords into plowshares” by Suzie Tremmel is licensed under CC BY 2.0